Tim Flannery reviews 'Call of the Reed Warbler: A new agriculture – a new earth' by Charles Massy

Tim Flannery reviews 'Call of the Reed Warbler: A new agriculture – a new earth' by Charles Massy

Call of the Reed Warbler: A new agriculture – a new earth

by Charles Massy

University of Queensland Press, $39.95 pb, 592 pp, 9780702253416

Tim Flannery

Tim Flannery

Tim Flannery is one of the world’s most prominent environmentalists. In 2007 he was named ‘Australian of the Year’, arguably


The Call of the Reed Warbler is a brutally honest book – an account of personal redemption following generations of sin. The only comparable work I know of is Rian Malan’s great saga of South Africa, My Traitor’s Heart (1990) – revolutionary, threatening, and the traducing efforts of an insider. Malan, a relative of the architect of apartheid, South African Prime Minister Daniel Malan, was an anti-apartheid revolutionary. My Traitor’s Heart cost him his family, society, almost his life. The Call of the Reed Warbler, one intuits, has cost Monaro farmer and author Charles Massy almost as dearly.

These may seem to be large claims for a book which, at one level, consists mostly of case studies of Australian farmers struggling for economic and environmental sustainability. But the reality behind the work is revealed through Google Earth: if you search for the properties mentioned in the book, you will find oases of green surrounded by that parched devastation we have come to think of as the normal state of Australian agricultural lands. The stark comparison begs the question: why do we continue with morally bankrupt and dangerous ways of doing things, when better alternatives stare us in the face?

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in October 2017, no. 395

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.